27 Jan / The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
“First comes love. Then comes marriage.” As pervasively common as that children’s rhyme is, the legal union between two people has not always been – nor is it still – a right granted to all Americans. In 1967, Richard and Mildred Loving challenged the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation marriage laws and won – not only for themselves, but for the rest of the United States. On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down not only Virginia’s restrictive marriage laws, but also deemed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 unconstitutional: the color of your skin could no longer determine who you chose to marry.
Richard Loving was white. Mildred Jeter “was what they called ‘colored’ in those days”; she was of African American and Cherokee heritage. They lived in Central Point, Virginia, fell in love and wanted to marry. To do so, they had to go to Washington, DC, but they returned home to Virginia to live. Their marriage certificate could not prevent the new couple from being dragged from their bed in the middle of the night and locked up in jail, charged with “unlawful cohabitation.” In 1958, in order to live together as man and wife, they had to leave their home, their families, and move to Washington, DC.
By 1966, “… the times they were a-changin’,” so the Lovings hired lawyers to fight for their right to be a family. “‘Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.'” The Supreme Court unanimously agreed: “They said it was UNCONSTITUTIONAL to make marriage a crime because of race.” Almost a decade had passed since their arrest, their family had grown to include three children who were “three different shades of milk-chocolate brown,” and finally they were going home to live “happily (and legally) ever after.”
For wife-and-husband team Selina Alko and Sean Qualls, Loving is truly a labor of love. “I happen to be a white Jewish woman from Canada, and Sean is an African-American man from New Jersey,” Alko writes in her “Author’s Note.” “I must admit, it’s difficult to imagine that just decades ago couples just like us not only faced discrimination, but were told by their governments they their love was unlawful.” The two black-and-white photographs on the same page – one of all five Lovings, the other of the book’s creators – are resonating testimony to the power of family.
The book’s art, too, is a wholly collaborative effort: “For years, Sean and I have thought about illustrating a book together; we were just waiting for the right story to come along.” Loving was clearly “the natural choice … for blending our styles together.” Blending and mixing are prevalent throughout, from choosing various media to infusing layouts with cutouts of sheet music, stamped letters, hand written letters, and more.
Almost half a century after the historical ruling, marriage is still not a universal option for consenting adults. Alko notes, “… the fight for equality continues. When I first wrote this manuscript n 2011, only five states legalized same-sex marriage. As of today in early 2014, there are seventeen states wherein gay marriage is legal.” As of January 2015, that number has grown to 36. “It is our hope that there will soon come a time when all people who love each other have the same rights as Sean and I have.”
“First comes love. Then comes marriage.” Some day is getting closer.